Fiber-to-the-home broadband works

Take a moment to think about how your Internet usage has changed in the last few years. The average person is doing and expecting a lot more from their Internet like increased interactivity, rich media, and uploading and downloading pictures and videos.

Increasingly large files are moving across the cyberspace network, and experts expect that trend to continue. According to a Discovery Institute study from January 2008, Internet traffic will rise 50 times in the next decade.

Fiber-to-the-home broadband is gaining popularity because of the pressure for better connectivity.

FTTH broadband refers to fiber optic cable connections for residential use. For about the same price, these optics-based systems can deliver a lot of digital information — like phone calls, video, data, etc. — more efficiently than copper coaxial cable. FTTH premises rely on both active and passive optical networks.

FTTH broadband already is a reality for 1 million Americans, 6 million in Japan, and 10 million worldwide, according to Broadband Properties Magazine. The forecasted Web traffic jam could be solved with FTTH technology.

What are the pros and cons of FTTH? How does it work?

What fiber-to-the-home broadband can do for you

The technology holds many advantages over current technologies, so there are already more than 10 million fiber-to-the-home connections around the world.

FTTH — also called FTTP, for fiber-to-the-premises — has a key advantage of providing faster speeds and carrying capacity than twisted pair conductors, DSL, or coaxial cable. One copper pair conductor can carry up to six phone calls. More than 2.5 million phone calls can be carried by one fiber pair [source: Federal Communications Commission].

Fiber-to-the-home is the only technology that can handle consumer demand reliably and cost-effectively for the next decade, say experts at the FTTH Council. Business around the world are getting into the business as they speculate on consumer demand.

Fiber has virtually unlimited bandwidth and a long reach, making it a “future-proof” medium that’ll be around for a long time [source: ICT Regulation Toolkit].

Although the bandwidth is much better, it costs about the same as current tech. The FTTH Council says cable companies spent $84 billion wiring households a decade ago, but FTTH costs even less now.

Experts say FTTH will be able to handle even the future uses of the Internet. In the future, 3D holographic high definition televisions and games will be in every home. FTTH can handle such equipment’s estimated 30-gigabyte-per-second needs. Other technologies can’t keep up.

FTTH will create new products not yet imagined as they open up new possibilities for data transmission. Look back five or ten years and see what items seem commonplace now that weren’t even on the drawing board then. The FTTH Council says FTTH broadband connections will inspire new products and services and open up whole new industries.

Consumers will also be able to bundle their communications services with FTTH. With FTTH, a consumer could receive phone, video, audio, TV, and just about any other kind of digital data stream. Getting those services on a single line, as is often the case today, would be more cost-effective and simpler.

What’s the technology behind FTTH broadband?

Passive and active optical networks

Data is transmitted using fiber optics. There needs to be a way to separate the data as it moves across fibers so that it gets to where it needs to go.

Two different types of fiber-to-the-home systems are available. One is an active optical network, while the other is a passive optical network. They all separate data and route it to the right place, but each has pros and cons [source: Ftth Council].

Electrically powered switches, such as routers and switch aggregators, control signal distribution in active optical systems. Signals are directed to the right places through various switches that open and close. Customer gets a fiber-optic connection to their home with this system.

Electrically powered switching equipment isn’t in passive optical networks. Instead, they use optical splitters to separate and collect the signals. There are fiber optic strands in passive optical networks. You only need powered equipment at the source and receiver.

A hybrid FTTH system combines passive and active components.

PONs, or passive optical networks, have some advantages. Each fiber optic strand can serve up to 32 users. PONs are cheaper to build and maintain than active optical networks. There are fewer moving parts in a PON, so there’s less chance of something going wrong.

Passive optical networks also have some drawbacks. Active optical networks have more range, so subscribers have to be closer to the data center. PONs also make it hard to isolate a problem. Due to the fact that the bandwidth in a PON is not dedicated to each subscriber, latency can cause data transmission speeds to slow down. The lack of smooth rate degrades audio and video, which need a smooth rate to maintain quality.

Active optical networks also have their perks. Ethernet technology makes interoperability easy. Subscribers can choose hardware that delivers the right data transmission rate and scale up as their needs increase without having to restructure the network.

Active optical networks also have their flaws. Each 48 subscribers needs a switch aggregator. Inherently, an active optical network is less reliable than a passive optical network because it requires power.

Development of international fiber-to-the-home connections

According to the FTTH Council’s 2008 report, which summarized findings from Europe, Asia-Pacific, and North America, Asian countries outpace the rest of the world in FTTH market penetration. FTTH broadband connections are an important strategic consideration for Asian governments, according to a new report.

Western countries are making gains, but still lag behind Asian countries. FTTH broadband is only available to 7 percent of homes in Sweden, 6 percent in Norway, and 2.5 percent in Denmark, a council report said.

With close to 2.3 percent of its households, the United States ranks about eighth. However, it represents a doubling of U.S. households with FTTH connections.

FTTH is growing worldwide, according to the FTTH Council. FTTH broadband connections are growing in number in more countries. According to the report, households in 14 countries have FTTH connections, up from 11 last year. Globally, 2007 was the best year for FTTH subscribers. Over 6 million households got FTTH between Japan, China, and the U.S.

Governments and private developers will do more to bring FTTH broadband connections to more homes as broadband demand grows.

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